Eric Metcalf played six spectacular seasons with the Browns. Drafted as a running back, the little guy from the University of Texas was also a solid pass receiver.
Ernie Accorsi, the Browns’ general manager at the time and the man who shipped four draft picks to the Denver Broncos to select Metcalf in the first round of the 1989 college football draft, was once asked what Metcalf’s best position was. Was it running back or wide receiver?
“His best position is just get him the ball,” Accorsi countered. “Just get him the ball.” Meaning put the ball in Metcalf’s hands and good things will happen. And they did, time and again, in spectacular fashion.
At the time of the selection, Accorsi called Metcalf “a weapon. “. . . We don’t need a running back. We don’t need a wide receiver. We need Eric Metcalf.”
Metcalf spent his first six National Football League seasons with the Browns from 1989 to 1994. He ran the ball, caught the ball and his ability to return punts and kickoffs for touchdowns scared the hell out of many teams.
He was a threat to score at any time he wrapped his hand around a football. Every place on the football field was a dangerous place for the opposition when he had the ball. He was only 5-10, a few pounds shy of 190 and possessed magical feet and sensational balance.
Opposing tacklers who believed they had him cornered usually whiffed at air when Metcalf broke into the open field. He scored 11 touchdowns on the ground, 15 through the air and added seven scores returning kicks for the Browns before playing four more seasons in Atlanta, San Diego and Arizona.
Because of Metcalf, most long-time Browns fans will remember Sunday Oct. 24, 1993 when the Browns hosted the loathed Pittsburgh Steelers at the old Stadium. He ran the ball only seven times for 53 yards that day and caught three Vinny Testaverde passes for 18 yards.
But that was not why that afternoon was so special.
Metcalf also returned two punts for touchdowns that day, 91 yards in the second quarter and a 75-yarder in the fourth quarter that sealed a 28-23 victory in a game dominated statistically by the Steelers.
Watching Metcalf as he changed directions so magically en route to the game-winning return, zigging and zagging and making defenders miss along the way, I remember him running up the small hill that fronted the old Dawg Pound at the end of the run and being swallowed by the fans. It was an image burned forever in the memory bank.
Okay, so what connection does Metcalf have with today’s Browns? None really. After all, it has been more than 30 years since he wore a Cleveland uniform. The club has sought a home run hitter like him for years and failed.
Duke Johnson Jr., the Browns’ third-round selection in the last college draft, is today’s version of Eric Metcalf. And he is being seriously underused by a coaching staff that has no idea how to handle him. His versatility presents matchup problems that no other player on the roster presents. Yet, he languishes on the bench.
Johnson touched the football only three times in Sunday’s 34-20 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. One of the touches produced a sensational, zig-zagging 52-yard catch and run with a short Josh McCown pass in the first quarter that led to a Gary Barnidge touchdown.
His three-yard run on the first play of the second half was his only touch in that half, a puzzling display of play calling by offensive coordinator John DeFilippo. It was as though the rookie was an afterthought.
A player with Johnson’s talent to catch the ball and make big plays should not be ignored. And considering how poorly the Browns run the ball, why not try Johnson as an every-down back? It’s not as though he’s never done it before. He was an every-down back at Miami of Florida.
At this point, what have they got to lose? At a solid 5-9 and 205 pounds, Johnson can’t be any worse than Isaiah (Two Yards and a Cloud of Turf) Crowell, Robert (Fumble Man) Turbin or Shaun (Is He Still on the Team?) Draughn.
With eight games remaining, it’s time to see what Johnson can do on a full-time basis. The Browns aren’t going anywhere, anyway. Why not see what he can do? To draft him and then not play him is plainly not the right thing to do.
Just get him the ball.
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In the waning moments of the Arizona loss, there was a Dwayne Bowe sighting. Yes, No. 80 and his big mouth are still with the club. Doing very little, if anything. When his hamstrings permit, he suits up and watches his teammates a lot more than join them on the field.
The highly overpaid – a few hundred dollars is too much – wide receiver, brought to Cleveland via free agency to be the No. 1 target for McCown and/or Johnny Manziel, has appeared in three games and been targeted three whole times.
Yes, the ball was thrown in his direction three times in three games, including Sunday against Arizona, and he has yet to catch one. Talk about mistakes. Blame General Manager Ray Farmer, familiar with Bowe during their days with the Kansas City Chiefs, for Bowe wearing the Seal Brown and Orange.
There are times when cutting bait is the wisest move to make. Consider this one of those times. Eat his contract. Man up, chalk it up to a dumb move and then move on. He’s taking up valuable space on a roster that needs a lot of help in too many areas.
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It’s bad enough the Cleveland secondary surrendered nearly 400 yards in the Arizona loss. A large amount of that yardage occurred after Joe Haden and Donte Whitner left the field with injuries.
Both men have entered concussion protocol, Haden for the second time this season, leaving the secondary woefully short of veteran talent. And with the unbeaten Cincinnati Bengals up next Thursday night, only Tramon Williams brings significant NFL experience to the back end of the defense.
It will be interesting to see if the Bengals, whose offense is as well balanced as any in the NFL, take advantage and challenge a weakened Cleveland secondary. Quarterback Andy Dalton is having a solid season, throwing for nearly 2,000 yards and 15 touchdowns with just four interceptions.
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If there was any sign of hope for the Cleveland defense against Arizona, it was sorta, kinda shutting down the run. Limiting the Cards to just 119 yards on the ground – the run defense surrendered more than 150 yards a game entering the game – is a victory for this team.
The task against the Bengals will be much tougher. Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard have had strong games against the Browns in the past and each presents a different kind of problem.
Hill is the bruiser, the guy who gets the tough yards between the tackles. Bernard is a slasher who tries to avoid contact and is the much better receiver out of the backfield. He excels at being Dalton’s safety valve.
Whitner’s absence removes a chunk of toughness in the Cleveland defense and it’s no secret Browns linebackers have problems with opposing backs out in pass patterns.
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Notebook: A statistic that tells plenty: During its strong first half in the Arizona game, the Cleveland offense converted six of eight third downs. In the second half, it converted just three of eight. . . . Another telling stat: The Cards owned the ball for 34 minutes and 23 seconds; the Browns for 25 minutes and 37 seconds. . . . . Entering the game, Arizona tight end Troy Niklas had caught just one pass this season for 13 yards. He caught only two against the Browns, both in the end zone. . . . It isn’t often a team wins the turnover battle and loses the game. Only if you’re the Cleveland Browns. When your defense produces four turnovers, you should win.